Vlada Knowlton is the director and producer of The Most Dangerous Year, which will have its premiere at the 2018 Seattle International Film Festival! Vlada is a recipient of the Women in Film Grant 2016 for this film. We were thrilled to have an opportunity to ask Vlada some questions about her film.
Film Synopsis: In early 2016, when a dark wave of anti-transgender "bathroom bills" began sweeping the nation, The Human Rights Campaign published a report identifying 2015 as the most dangerous year for transgender Americans. In Washington State six such "bathroom bills" were introduced in the State Legislature. Documentary filmmaker Vlada Knowlton captured the ensuing civil rights battle from the perspective of a small group of embattled parents as they banded together to fight a deluge of proposed laws that would strip away the rights of their young, transgender children. As one of the parents, Knowlton presents an intimate portrait of her own struggle to protect her 5-year-old transgender daughter from laws inspired by hate and fear.
How did your family react when you decided to move forward with the film?
All five of us had multiple “family” conversations about this film over the dinner table. When I first told the kids I was thinking about moving forward with this project they were all for it. My husband felt the same way I did from the beginning; that this film was a duty, not a choice. But it was important to me that the kids fully understood what a film project like this would mean to us as a family. This could expose us to a lot of hate and bigotry. So I talked to them about it several times...and continued to discuss it as the production stage progressed. I think kids understand a lot more than adults give them credit for. I was pretty impressed with their ability to see the big picture and understand that the civil rights of millions of people were at stake. Their message to me the whole time was essentially, “you’ve gotta do this, mom”.
What was it like for you to film the anti-transgender rhetoric and events?
It was of course very difficult to have to put myself into such spaces and observe these events. But I had to force myself to put all my personal thoughts and emotions aside and do my job. It wasn’t all a bad experience, though, because I also learned a lot and gained a broader level of understanding about the people who are fighting against the rights of transgender people. For example, I had the opportunity to have a lengthy conversation with a husband and wife who were very opposed to their kids going to school with transgender kids. By the end of this conversation, when this couple really opened up to me, it was clear that their position came from one place: fear. They were terrified. And their fear came from a lack of knowledge and familiarity. So being able to understand this and to put myself in their shoes solidified and confirmed my resolution that the only way for us all to move forward is through education.
What has happened since filming wrapped?
In terms of what’s happening in Washington State - thankfully this state has been steadily moving forward in the direction of justice, equality, and inclusiveness. Not only did the anti-trans Just Want Privacy campaign fail again to gather enough signatures for their ballot initiative in 2017, but in 2018 our state legislature passed a law banning so-called “conversion therapy”, which is an antiquated and monstrous method of breaking down and torturing LGBTQ youth into hiding and suppressing their true selves.
Sadly, on the federal level the movement towards justice and equality has been stalled and is even moving backwards. The current administration has been doing everything in their power to turn back the progress that has been made by doing things like banning transgender troops from serving in the military and stating that the justice department and department of education will no longer protect trans adults and students from discrimination. So there is clearly still a lot of work to be done.
On the personal and local level, though, our children are happy, healthy, and thriving inside their homes and their communities. And that’s the most important thing.
How do you hope this film will be used in the future?
This purpose of this film is to educate and inform. There is still so much ignorance and misinformation out in the world about what it means to be born transgender. I think the majority of the world’s population still does not understand that transgender people are regular, sane people who are born the gender they say they are just like everybody else. I think we as a society will eventually reach the point when we understand this and being transgender will finally be viewed as part of the natural diversity of the human race, just like left-handedness. However, until we get to that point, trans people are still going to be sorely vilified and mistreated and that is tragic. With my film, I hope to contribute to the education of people on this subject to help get us all to the point of understanding and acceptance a little bit sooner.